John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Saturday 14 July 2012) Plunging Palace

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Saturday 14 July 2012) Plunging Palace

The living room was full of stuff, part boxed up, part spread out, totally and utterly disordered. Roy told himself that these things had to get worse before they got better. A nice, clear weekend lay ahead. He would pick through everything piece by piece, filing, framing, throwing out. The family archive would take shape. The kitchen would be his operations base. The fourth bedroom, mostly a spare room, the compact space where his computer and printer lived, would be its home. He felt good.

To prepare himself Roy waded across the living room, went to a shelf and picked a photo album at random from a row of six. He opened the album on the kitchen table. He saw Kristie, himself and a comedy vicar grinning over an infant in Kristie’s arms. The infant was Leila, the year 1981. Other photos of the occasion showed a fretful Gwen, a chirpy Don, a critical Nerys, a pious Brian, a proud Daphne and Azim. Kristie alone glowed with tranquillity. The baby Leila slept.

Roy fetched his laptop and flicked around the web. He saw that Leila had had the sign of God placed on her forehead halfway between the Brixton riots and Charles and Di getting hitched, and shortly after Palace’s relegation.

He looked up that dismal season: lost 29 times, went through four managers and two chairmen and finished at the foot of First Division, 13 points adrift. Venables had left for QPR after rowing with the board. He was eventually succeeded by a returning Allison, who’d lasted for just 55 days. His brief second coming had seen Palace hit the bottom of the table by December. The previous season Palace had been dubbed “the team of the Eighties”. They were now heading for relegation before the first year of that decade was complete.

“There’s been a few backhanders,” Don had said.

Roy supposed that from around that time he’d shed the last remnants of his childhood indoctrination about sport being a cleansing moral arena where manliness meant pretending that bone-crunching tackles hadn’t hurt, and saying “hard lines” to a goalkeeper who’d valiantly failed to save a penalty.

Crystal Palace FC had looked a tawdry thing. A newborn baby, by contrast, was a fresh beginning for a still-new decade, and looking back to that time through a long lens from 2012 gave Roy that tired-of-life feeling he was trying to keep at bay. He put the photo album back and decided to go out and buy some more. They would be needed, after all.

He couldn’t find any he liked in Purley and got back home at three o’clock, just in time to see a split in the peloton and Wiggins stick with the front group. An hour later he’d retained the yellow jersey yet again and would wear it for a seventh day, a record for a Brit. Tommy Simpson, Roy learned, had worn it just once. He’d died two miles from a barren mountain summit, aged 29. A newspaper had reported that “as a cyclist” Simpson had been only a little short of the very highest class. Not, perhaps, a glowing epitaph.

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE. Follow John Vane on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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